Dailies: 3M

Photographed a classic Wisco street spot last week. It was snowing so hard that we couldn't keep the stairs clean, that and there were like 20 dudes lined up to hit the thing. Here are a few decent images from that night. Scroll to the bottom for links to where you can purchase prints or digital files from this shoot.

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Purchase prints HERE. Purchase digital files HERE.

Thanks for the support!

More to Come - J.H.

LATE NIGHT // EARLY SEASON

Last week marked the official start of the snowboard season for me. With a busy fall of off-season jobs and wintery preparations now in the past, that winter schedule coming up fast. Of course, there is a certain lack of snow in the Midwest this time of year, but luckily there is no shortage of determined riders willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Traditionally, the early season riding around here is in the form of little contests and rail jams hosted by the various local shops. Other than that, the only source of rideable terrain would be to truck in ice shavings from an ice rink and build something by hand.  Most people like to do the work to set up a few ice rink jibs to prepare for the fall contests and get some miles on those shinny new boards. So I got a call on Friday night asking if I wanted to come shoot "something, we're not really sure what yet.." I was like "Hell Yeah!"

For me this is a good chance to get back in to the swing of shooting the shred and maybe try out something new before there is any real pressure to "get the shot"

So we shoveled slush and set up a classic little corrugated pipe jib to session a little. Here are the "acceptable" frames from the night, man it's good to be back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bella K.

O.K. so this post is a little bit a of a departure from the kind of stuff that usually shoot, but I think that's probably a good thing. The "normal" type of assignments that I tend to do fall into two distinct categories: Action Sports  and Commercial Advertising. Sometimes there is some overlap, but nothing that would fall very close to this shoot.  

As it happens, around the time that this shoot happened I was in the planning stages for another project that I will discuss in a distant future post. I only mention this because I have been looking to do a shoot styled like this for quite a while.

 

I was originally contacted by the lovely and wonderful Annabelle Koehler about setting up some sort of shoot way back in August. Right smack dab in the middle of that Senior Portrait Rush. I may have mumbled something about doing some pre-production on this one. The fact is, I showed up with very little in way of a plan. Normally I would never admit show up to a shoot like this, but since this was a TF type shoot, I figured that I could come up with something cool on the fly.

We shot at a handful of locations around the city of LaCrosse. Of course, the morning's cloud cover gave way to a clear sky just as we began, so it was a challenge to deal with the midday sun using only small strobes.

It ended up being sort of fun to work without a plan and come up with ideas on the fly, but I will admit that it was probably more fun to be behind the camera than in front of it.

 

DIY Sync Cables

I will admit, sync cables are not the sexiest piece of kit and is perhaps one of the least contemplated gear purchases one can make. In most cases the cables that came with your triggers are probably all you need and there is not really a reason to give the subject more thought until  you inevitably replace them as the junctions with the connectors break. There are plenty of options on the market, Pocket Wizard and Paramount both make a large selection of suitable cables to suit nearly every configuration possible. Most of these cables are pretty reliable, but also cost about $15-20 a pop. Another option would be to use the cheaper, standard 3.5mm patch audio patch cords commonly used to connect music players to their various accessories. If you choose this option, make sure you buy at least a few spares because the cheaper cables don't seam to last very long.  The third option, and the one that I chose, was to make my own cables using ultra high quality, but very affordable components. There are a few reasons why I chose to make my own cables. After reading this you may decide that it's just not worth the effort to make your own, but that is up to you to decide.   O.K. The biggest reason that I decided to build my own sync cords is illustrated above. On the left is my home made cable and on the right is a PW branded cable that cost around $15. Obviously the left cable is a little more durable in design, but it's best feature is that is cost less than half of what the commercial cable did. The conductors in each wire are about the same gauge, but the jacket on my cable is much thicker and of a bit softer material. Basically, you are getting a much longer wearing cable that costs less and can be repaired if necessary. You can also see how I re-enforced the plugs with an extra layer of shrink wrap. There is a layer that covers the solder points under the housing and a layer that goes over the housing to reduce the chance of kinking and breaking of the wires.Under normal circumstances, this would probably be a little overkill but I found last winter that in the cold it doesn't take that much strain on the joint to crack the stiffened outer jacket and once it is cracked the cable is soon broken. To fix this problem I ended up using a pro audio cable with a more flexible jacket that was more resistant to cold weather.So, a cable that is both cheaper and more durable then a standard cable, win-win right? well, there are a few little rubs. One is that because of the increased size of the connector there may be some compatibility issues with some models of triggers. As shown above, you cannot use both the pass-through and output on the Phottix Atlas at the same time (Pocket Wizards don't have this problem). The other issue is that because the cable is now beefed up, the weak link is now the probably the connector on the radio trigger. Breaking a $175 trigger will negate any money that you saved with these cables, just sayin. There is the potential for more leverage to be applied to the jack do to the increased size of the plug, just be careful. I would say that the biggest advantage to these cables is their durability in cold weather. If you don't often work in the cold, then I would think hard about whether these are something that you need. If you rarely break cables then I would advise against DIY cables simply because of the increased risk of damaging a flash or trigger. If it ain't broke, don't fix it -or whatever. That being said, I can never seem to have enough on hand, so I build a dozen or so at once, and swap them out if they become damaged. The connectors are reusable so repairing a damaged cable only costs as much as a new piece of cable.

Ready for Your Close up, Mr. O'Malley?

I shot some senior pics for my cousin Everett a few weeks ago. Part of why I like doing these types of shoots is that I get to spend more time on 'em then is acceptable for a normal portrait shoot, and go to locations that would otherwise be time prohibitive to get some really interesting results. As you can see here, over the course of two days we shot in a studio, in an alley, and even traveled to several locations by boat to get a variety of shots. Unfortunately, I didn't snap many set up shots on this one, but you can still get the idea.[gallery link="file" order="DESC" columns="4"]

Testing Gadgets

Earlier this summer I started putting together a waterproof housing for an off camera flash. My design was an adaption of THIS device that was posted on STROBIST a long while ago. I had a bunch of ideas for things to do with it, mostly involving wake/surf but this summer has been difficult in regards to shooting that kind of stuff. So, I've been itching to use this thing and I finally had a perfect opportunity a couple weeks ago. Every year my family has a family reunion weekend  in northern Wisconsin and there is a famous rope swing that affords some sweet action shot opportunities. This would be perfect to test out this new housing. I actually tried to do the same thing last year with some plastic bags, but that didn't work out very well. #deadflash. The actual construction of the unit was fairly simple, the supplies cost around $25, and took less than an hour to build. I used 3" pipe and fittings, a 12" section of pipe fits a flash and pocket wizard with ease.  The goal was to make a rugged, waterproof unit that was affordable, and not too bulky.  Because I used 3" pipe, some larger flashes will not fit (vivitar 283/285 some canons, sb-900. If you plan on using any of these flashes then you should be using 4" pipe and pack it with some foam chunks for a snug fit. It is also important to note that this device is intended for surface use and not for underwater photography. If you plan on using it under the surface you will need to devise some fitting so you can use a hard sync, as radio triggers are useless under water. You also want to make sure you use solid pvc, as most of the large diameter pipe sold at home centers is cell core and won't handle the pressure.

I improved on the original design by adding removable/interchangeable pistol grip/ (1/4-20) mount for increased adaptability. The handle is made out of 3/4" pvc sheet. I drew a pattern for the grip freehand, cut it out with a jig saw and finished the edges with a spindle sander and router. I mounted a section of the same pvc used for the body of the housing to my drill press covered with medium sand paper to contour the mounting surface of the grip fit tightly with the body of the housing. The handle is held on with a pair of 1/4-20 bolts, sealed with neoprene washers and some silicone grease. I rough cut the window from a sheet of 1/4" lexan and temporarily attached it the the end of the tube with carpet tape (diy essential) I then finished the edge using a router with a copy bit, using the tube as a guide. This ensured that the window is the exact diameter as the tube. I hope all of this makes sense, I was planing on putting together a step by step how-to on this project but I was in a rush to get it done. I will be building several more of these in the near future, so look for more detailed photos and maybe a video soon.

To load the unit you remove the LDPE cap in the rear and slide the flash in head first. Do to the tight fit, I use a hot shoe adapter to attach the sync cord to the flash, depending on where the sync port is on your flash you may be able to omit this part. Then the pocket wizard is loaded and foam disks are inserted to take up any remaining space. The treads are cleaned and have silicone grease applied (available from dive shops) to ensure a tight seal. The shots below speak to the possible results.

Vivitar 283 Variable Power Mod

Over this passed winter I made a transition from my prized collection of SB-28s to the Lumedyne system 244. Winter is a slow season as far as cashing checks is concerned for me, and at the time I was really in need of more w/s so the Nikon flashes went on ebay. Fast forward another couple of months and I was jonesing to update my studio lights, so out went the Lumedynes. So come the summer months and I was starting to miss the ease and portability of the small lights. Don't get me wrong, I love busting out that 7' octa any chance I can get, but there is certainly a place for the shoe mount flashes when speed and portability is key.

The first time around, I acquired my flashes one at a time, adding one or two when I had the cash or found a particularity good deal on ebay. This time however, I was looking at buying a whole kit all at once and even at $100 a pop, those Nikon flashes can add up fast.

I started to look around for alternatives and I found the Vivitar 283. I had a few of these when I first started out but I sold them because they lack a real manual power control. The Main advantage of these flashes is that they are plentiful used, and they are cheap, so putting them in harms way is not a big deal. By any ones standards the 283 is very outdated and unlike it's big brother the 285, there has been little resurgence in demand with the recent popularity of off camera flash. The reason for this of course, is that pesky lack of power control.

 

Now, vivitar did make a little plug in unit to replace the auto one, but it was overpriced at $20 and is now discontinued meaning that the used price today is now even higher. The good news here is that there are quite a few good articles on the web about how to diy your own manual power control. They range from "duct tape and tin foil" type hacks to fairly intricate self contained solutions that will blend in seamlessly with the rest of your kit.

Most of these mods use a potentiometer (think volume knob) to do the job. The problem with these is that there are no hard stops for specific power settings, and depending of which type of pot you used it became very difficult to repeat your settings especially when you are dialing the power way down.

I came across what, in my mind, is the perfect solution to this problem a while ago before I had even seriously thinking about modifying the 283. I searched high and low to find the original site to link to, but as of right now I cannot find it. The idea came from a guy who was into microphotography and had built a control unit for a 283 to use for that purpose. The unit was simply a multi-position switch housed in plastic box. Each position of the switch connected a path with a specific resistance value that coincides with a specific light output. Basically, its a discrete variable  resistor, the perfect solution for a manual power control. I found the resistance values by trial and error using a light meter and a big bag of resistors, I will post the numbers at some point for those who are interested. I do remember that the numbers were in the original article that I found, those numbers are probably more accurate then mine if you can find them.

The unit that I ended up with is 1"x2"x3" and offers a 5.5 stop range in half stop increments. This is based off of a 12 position, single pole switch. This is the largest switch that I could find. This offers a range from 1/1 all the way to half a stop past 1/32. The 283 can actually be tuned down past 1/128, but I wanted the half stops so mine has lightly less range.

The unit plugs into the port where the thyristor usually goes. I actually took apart the original thyristor module to steal the plug from it. The rest of the construction was fairly simple soldering and drilling a couple of holes. I printed a little colored power value dial on my inkjet and glued it on the front for now. I ordered a few sheets of water slide decals for a more finished look.

In the photos you will notice that the unit is not attached directly to the flash but is mounted on the light stand via an extension cord. This cord has several versions (sc-1, sc-2, sc-3) and can be purchased online for $10-20 depending on availability. I got one of these cords along with one of the flashes that I got on ebay, and I promptly ordered several more. There are several advantages to having the power control mounted remotely, first several modifiers (the Westcott Apollo softboxes come to mind) require you to mount the flash inside where it is not easily accessible, using the cord allows for easy power adjustments. The other reason has to do with sync. The 283 comes with the standard vivitar sync port, to utilize this would require carrying another species of cord and probably a few spares as well. The other option would be one of those little hot shoe translators, but that adds another inch of stack height and another flimsy junction between the stand and the strobe. The sc-1/2/3 solves this problem by adding another hot shoe at the control end of the cord where a Pocket Wizard or other trigger can easily be attached and adjusted along with the power control.  You can see a close up of the whole control in the photo below. I have attached it to the light stand with a super clamp and an umbrella swivel but I have a much smaller and simpler solution in the works, stay tuned.

Toolbox: Clamps

This week I thought I would share a couple of cheap and really useful pieces of gear. To please everyone, there are three options here: an off the shelf/industry standard solution, an inexpensive and easy DIY option, and a piece that you can either make or buy. First up is the Bogan Super Clamp.

An in depth post about this guy is available at the STROBIST site. These things are awesome! Basically, there are a ton of uses for 'em. They let you mount and join things together and are generally the best solution for makeshift light mounts. They can clamp to anything up to 2" wide, pipes, doors, whatever you can think of. The back side accepts a standard 5/8" stud, meaning that they are compatible with a wide range of the other pieces of grip gear like camera and hotshoe flash  mounts. Chase Jarvis uses these things to put remote cameras on all sorts of things. I have used them to mount lights on boat towers, bikes, and even cars. The original super clamp is manufactured by Manfrotto but there are a bunch of other places that sell them under various brands, including this Impact clamp sold by B+H Photo and this Flashpoint one by Adorama. I have heard mixed reviews on the budget model clamps with some raving about them and some complaining of failure. My feeling is that the Manfrotto clamps are pretty cheap already and I would rather spend the extra few buck then drop and camera or light. All my clamps are marked Manfrotto and I have not had one fail yet (knock on wood).

Option 2: A-clamp

The alternative to the store bought clamp is this lighter-duty DIY version. Now, there is no way that this clamp will hold a dSLR with any sort of security, but it will hold a hotshoe flash to a railing with little trouble. I explained how to build one of your own in THIS post but you should be able to tell how it was made just by looking at it. I took an inexpensive A-clamp from HOME DEPOT and drilled a 3/8" hole in the handle to allow a MINI BALL HEAD to be attached. You could go as cheap or as pricy as you want with either of these parts, my clamps cost about $11 each with the parts shown and work pretty well.

Even if you don't build a few of these for your self you should definitely pick up a few of those green clamps to put in your bag, infinitely useful.

The last piece is an accessory for the other two. This is something that most people don't think about until disaster strikes. The safety wire is really a no brainer, and is so cheap that there is no reason not to use 'em. Basically a safety wire is a length of cable with a small carabiner on each end. I allow a essentially unbreakable connection between the flash or camera and the solid object that it is clamped to. This is important  if the clamp slips or is bumped, especially if clamped up high were it may drop and injure someone. In some cases the location or production that you are working at may require them for safety/liability reason.

The good news its that they are extremely cheap and don't take up much space in your bag. You can buy them HERE or HERE or you can make your own like I did and save a few bucks.

If you care to make your own I would use 1/16" or 1/8" wire rope and a carabiner that is rated at least 5X the max load that the cable with support. The cable and the connectors are cheap so don't skimp the the weight rating. I cut 30" lengths of cable and crimped loops on the ends for the carabiners, then I slipped a short length of shrink tubing over the ends of the cable to keep it from fraying.

So now we have a few alternative ways of mounting gear to fixed (or moving) objects, and a way to add a little security to the operation.

Next up? Who knows, I'll think about it and get back to you.